September 28, 2018

Sustaining Culture: What it Means to Hire for Core Values

At PHOS, everything we do centers around our core values of Leadership, Creativity, Love, Integrity, and Community.

These core values define our culture. If you already enjoy following us on Facebook and Instagram, you’ve gotten a glimpse of what that culture looks like in practice.

By keeping these five values at the center of every project that we take on, every cause we choose to support, and every team member we bring on board, we’ve seen an amazing amount of success in building relationships and producing highly effective and creative results for our clients and for PHOS.

The larger your company becomes, the harder it is to sustain culture. This is why at PHOS, we invest time and energy into making sure we get it right from the start. And that means hiring the right people.

Our CEO & Founder, Brandon West, and Charter Store Owner of Maple Street Biscuit Company, Jason Hurst, recently did a segment on the WHOA GNV Podcast (if you haven’t checked this out yet, we recommend you do) on company culture. They were both asked this question: “What is the biggest threat to your company’s culture?” And Jason’s answer summed it up well. He said, “bad hires.”

For those of you who’ve ever experienced an unsuccessful hire, you can understand the enormous burden it can have on your company’s culture (and your finances). So, how do you make sure you’re recruiting the right people? The title of this article probably has you guessing the answer – you hire for core values. But to do that, your company needs to understand completely what each of your core values means to you. Let’s start there.

Defining Your Core Values

Maybe you have a list of your core values, but do you know what they really mean? When your company says that they value integrity, what are they really talking about? The first step to hiring for core values is clarifying what each of your company’s core values represents to you.

Your core values are the deeply held beliefs that authentically describe your soul.
– John C. Maxwell

At PHOS, we define each of ours as follows:

With a clear definition for each, we can more easily identify these in the people that we are speaking to. Similarly, we’re better able to teach others what they are and what they mean to us.

If you’re struggling to define them, it might be easier for you to think of an example of each one and use those as guidelines for your hiring and culture initiatives. If you’re still struggling to describe what they mean, it may mean your company has lost touch with them and needs to invest time in restoring them.

Jenelle and Cat Work Anniversary

What Does It Mean to Hire for Core Values?

When we talk about hiring, it’s very important for us to clarify that hiring for culture or core values does not always mean hiring for fit. We don’t want every team member to think the same, act the same, bring the same points-of-view, or interests.

While hiring, strive to find people with different opinions, approaches, and experiences, but that share your values. Look for culture add.

Hiring for core values does not mean asking internal questions like “Is this person an extrovert?”

Instead, try asking yourself this: “What can this person bring to the table that will add to our culture?” and “What can this person bring to our clients that will show them leadership, creativity, love, integrity, and community?”

If a person during the interview process can show and prove to you that they’re aligned with your company’s core values, regardless of whether or not they are an introvert, extrovert, like holiday parties, or hate coffee, they are qualified as a culture add.

Identifying Values During the Interview Process

If you’re an employer, you know that finding the right people and keeping them is one of the most challenging and important business needs. How can you assess everything that you need in just one 60-minute interview? Picture having to choose the person you’re going to marry by only meeting and speaking with them for 60-minutes…kind of unsettling, right? We think so too.

We have seen employers try a multitude of things to assess candidates beyond just their skill set. While each candidate poses different concerns or challenges, we think making the most out of that 1-hour interview is important, which is why we try hard to ask the right questions.

Ask the Right Questions

When it comes to assessing core values, we recommend the following:

Besides making the most of your interviews, we find that the best way to trial a good culture add is to offer internships.


Our most successful way of hiring new team members is by offering opportunities for us as the employer and the candidate to make sure it’s the right choice for both of us. We do this through internships.

Our internship program introduces and exposes our interns to every single aspect of our business. They see first hand what core values and mission in action look like. And there is no better way of assessing whether or not they can get behind those core values than having them on board as a team member with us.

Since implementing, we have seen a growing 36% conversion ratio from our internship program as compared to our roughly 2% conversion ratio from online applications. That’s amazing for not only our efficiency but our culture!

Looking for an internship? Send us your application here, and we’ll be in touch!

Exemplifying Core Values During Onboarding

Once a candidate is hired, the work is not over. An important part of sustaining culture is always nurturing it. When you make an effort to encourage and praise those who live through your core values, you are nurturing culture.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
Roy Disney

At PHOS, our team members are praised publicly and privately for their exemplification of our core values. Because of this, we’re able to bring people from all different backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences together for new ideas, projects, challenges, and solutions, without sacrificing any one of the five values that we hold so dear.

If culture is a passion of yours and you’re looking for a partner to help you define your mission, vision, and values, our team can help. Our strategic consulting services have helped companies restore the meaning and power behind their core values, and the results have had incredible impacts not only on their employees but their customers as well.

Alexis Fillmer

With a strategic mind and a love for culture and leadership, Alexis spends each day working to get the most out of every idea and person on our team. As our Director of Operations, she’s responsible for creating organizational clarity, ensuring excellence in our services, and creating a culture in which our team members can flourish.

Outside of PHOS, you can find Alexis playing with her son at the park, starting a new house project (and maybe finishing it), at the nearest farmer’s market, trying a new recipe, or scoping out live music with her husband.